The Best Teams of the 1970s
I just wrote an article that looked at the players of the 1970s, as evaluated by Player won-lost records. The 1970s featured lots of great players, of course, but one thing that I think made the 1970s unique in baseball history was that it also featured lots of great teams.
The 1950s, for example, featured dynasties, but relatively few of them - the Yankees, the Dodgers, and a little run by the Braves at the end.
The 1980s saw lots of different teams win - 22 of 26 teams made the playoffs at least once - and there were some great individual teams, but until the very end of the decade, the closest thing to a "dynasty" was probably the St. Louis Cardinals, who played in 3 World Series in 6 seasons, but followed up all three pennant winners with losing records.
The 1970s, in my opinion, had the best of both worlds. It wasn't dominated by just one or two teams, but it produced lots of great teams who demonstrated that greatness across multiple seasons. Five different teams appeared in at least three World Series in the 1970s, and four different teams won at least two World Series. And while there were back-to-back Yankees-Dodgers World Series in 1977-78 for the traditionalists, there were also two Pittsburgh-Baltimore matchups, the Oakland A's won five straight division titles and three straight World Championships. And while neither team would get to the World Series until 1980, the newly-created Kansas City Royals and historically inept Philadelphia Phillies put together sustained runs of excellence that started in the mid-1970s. And probably better than all of them was one of the all-time great juggernauts: the Big Red Machine.
The first table of this article looks at how all 26* major-league teams performed in the 1970s. The teams are ranked by total regular-season pWins over replacement level within the decade.
* - There are actually 27 entries on this list, because the Washington Senators (1970 - 1971) and Texas Rangers (1972 - 1979) are listed separately. Combining them, the franchise would move ahead of the Atlanta Braves, Milwaukee Brewers, and Cleveland Indians in the above table.
||Major-League Teams: sorted by regular-season 1970s pWORL
The Reds are certainly no surprise to me, and, having grown up an Orioles fan in the 1970s, their position there seems about right to me, too. The Pirates won 6 NL East titles and two World Series; the Dodgers won only 3 division titles and are, perhaps, a bit higher on this list than I would have guessed.
But the biggest surprise here, to me, is the fifth team on the list. Eight teams made the playoffs at least three times in the 1970s; the Red Sox made the playoffs once. But it took 163 games to eliminate them in 1978, they lost the 1972 AL East by 0.5 game, and they lost the 1977 AL East by 2.5 games. The Red Sox were also hurt somewhat by geography: their win total would have been enough to win the AL West in 1978 and 1979 (although not actually in 1975).
At first glance, the 5-time AL West division, 3-time World Series winner Oakland A's seem a bit low in the above table. But while the 1970 - 1976 Oakland A's were one of the elite teams in the major leagues, the 1970s extended through 1977, 1978, and 1979, which saw the A's lose 98, 93, and 108 games.
The next table looks at postseason performance in the 1970s. Here, teams are ranked by total postseason pWins over replacement level within the decade.
Four teams won at least two World Series in the 1970s. Sneaking into second place for the decade, though, are my Orioles, despite going 1-2 in their three World Series appearances in the 1970s. But their win was a 5-game rout of the Reds in 1970 while their two losses were both 7-game heartbreakers. Overall, the Orioles record in World Series games in the 1970s was 10-9; in the ALCS, their record was 12-7, going 9-1 in their three series wins, 3-6 in their two losses.
In contrast, the Oakland A's, for example, were swept in both of their ALCS losses while 4 of their 6 victorious postseason series went the distance, for an overall postseason record of 21-18 vs. the Orioles overall postseason record of 22-16 (they went 6-6 against each other in three ALCS matchups).
Best Teams by Factor
One of the great things about the 1970s was that many of the great teams were built in such different ways. The final set of tables here look at the four key factors into which Player won-lost records are divided: batting, baserunning, pitching, and fielding.
The next table shows the top 10 teams in net batting wins during the 1970s, sorted by (context-neutral, teammate-adjusted) net batting eWins.
||Top Batting Teams of the 1970s
There are those Red Sox again. The 1970s Red Sox team featured three Hall-of-Famers: Carlton Fisk, Carl Yastrzemski, and Jim Rice. They also had another regular, Dwight Evans, who was elected to the Hall of Merit and the 1975 MVP, Fred Lynn, who was actually even better in 1979.
The second-best batting team of the 1970s is no surprise: Joe Morgan, Pete Rose, Johnny Bench, Tony Perez, George Foster, et al.
I also have to give a nod to my beloved Orioles. Earl Weaver's old adage of "pitching, defense, and three-run homers" included plenty of 3-run homers from Frank Robinson, Boog Powell, Ken Singleton, Eddie Murray, et al.
Next, the top 10 baserunning teams of the 1970s, sorted by (context-neutral, teammate-adjusted) net baserunning eWins.
The Cincinnati Reds were easily the best baserunning team of the 1970s, to such an extent that they pass the Red Sox' more modest advantage in batting, leading to the expected conclusion that the Big Red Machine was the best offensive team of the 1970s.
Turning to the other side of the ball, the next table shows the top 10 teams in net pitching wins during the 1970s, sorted by (context-neutral, teammate-adjusted) net pitching eWins.
I don't think it's the Orioles fan in me talking when I say the best pitching team of the 1970s is no surprise.
A couple of teams that we haven't talked much about show up here. The New York Mets, led by Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman, and Jon Matlack took down the Big Red Machine in 1973 and could have almost certainly done more if they could have just found enough of an offense. The California Angels of the 1970s were led by Nolan Ryan and Frank Tanana in their primes.
And finally, the top 10 fielding teams of the 1970s, sorted by (context-neutral, teammate-adjusted) net fielding eWins.
Before I put together this section of the article, I was expecting the story to end up being the Reds' offense versus the Orioles' defense. It turns out that's not fair to the Reds, who were not merely very good defensively but were the best in the majors in the 1970s, in terms of fielding. And while the Orioles were very good, they actually only rate fourth in team fielding for the decade.
The Reds - Orioles comparison actually comes down more to one of position players vs. pitchers.
One team that pops up here for the first time is the Montreal Expos who started putting together a solid team for the first time in their history in the mid-to-late 1970s, anchored by a perennial Gold Glover and eventual Hall-of-Famer behind the plate, Gary Carter, and an outstanding defensive outfield of Warren Cromartie, Andre Dawson, and Ellis Valentine. In 1978 Cromartie, Dawson, and Valentine had 22, 17, and 25 outfield assists, respectively, and combined to start 10 double plays. This rates the 1978 Expos as the best fielding team in what I call Component 8 (baserunner outs) for whom I have calculated Player won-lost records.
So there you have it: the best players and the best teams of the 1970s.
All articles are written so that they pull data directly from the most recent version of the Player won-lost database. Hence, any numbers cited within these articles should automatically incorporate the most recent update to Player won-lost records. In some cases, however, the accompanying text may have been written based on previous versions of Player won-lost records. I apologize if this results in non-sensical text in any cases.
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